Parliament shamed by anti-women bullies
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The decision by Victorian Liberal MP Julia Banks to quit the Coalition government over its attitude to women, and the sexist slur against SA Greens Senator Sarah Hanson-Young by a Queensland Nationals senator show that issues of gender inequality are still rife under capitalism.
Women suffer gender oppression in various ways. That oppression is most intensely felt by working class women, but can also be experienced by women in the middle and ruling classes. Women of the ruling class, unlike their proletarian and petty-bourgeois sisters, generally enjoy class privileges that blunt the effects of any gender discrimination they experience. Except in individual cases of, for example, domestic violence, they benefit both from their class position and from social advances that are won for women in their privileged position. They can afford to pay a cleaner for their homes, buy good quality take away meals or regular meals at restaurants. A nanny or other childcare is affordable for them. Their children are not stolen by the state if their relationship breaks down, as they rarely become homeless. While many men share housework, the majority do not and overwhelmingly these burdens fall on women. The capitalist system relies on this unpaid work.
The Women’s Liberation Movement of the 1960s and 70s challenged patriarchal ideology and gender discrimination and won some improvements in women’s legal rights. There was a huge focus from the movement on women's health centres in working class areas, equal pay, strikes led by women from the movement in teacher and nurses unions, women's refuges, rape crisis centres, to get young women out of juvenile gaols who had been sentenced for poverty, for being "uncontrollable" or for being victims of violence and sexual abuse at home and more. At the same time, it privileged the women of the exploiting class over their working class sisters. Gains were made in smashing the “glass ceiling”, and female CEOs and managers are now not uncommon, but the strains and stresses facing women on the ground floor and in the basement went largely unchanged. Many of the inequities and injustices of capitalism are visited more frequently and more intensively upon women of the working class than on men; consequently, the Party has a special responsibility to assist working women to overcome disadvantage and disempowerment. Our booklet “Services sector workers struggle shows need for bold, resilient leadership” (available in the Downloads section of our website) deals very largely with the organisation of women in precariously employed industries.
Women of the upper class have been advantaged by the opening up of positions of corporate leadership to women. Associated with this has been a change in the social atmosphere in those circles where women have shown that they are in every respect the equal of men. Contrasting this world with the cesspit of parliament, Banks remarked that “Across both major parties, the level of regard and respect for women in politics is years behind the business world.”
Behavioural changes on the basis of gender moved quickly in the business world once it was shown that sexism and gender discrimination had become obstacles to capital accumulation. Parliament remained a refuge of sexist behaviours because they had no direct bearing on company profits and because they were but an extension of the personal vitriol, bullying and continual put-downs that mark every session of Question Time – behaviours that make visiting schoolchildren ashamed and embarrassed.
Sarah Hanson-Young has been targeted as a woman. After speaking about a murder resulting from domestic violence, Senator David Leyonheljm insinuated that if she “hated men so much”, she should “stop shagging them”. Now, Queensland LNP Senator Barry O’Sullivan has thrown at her the double entendre slur that she “has a little bit of Nick Xenophon in her”.
To date, and as a result of the recent ugly leadership within the Liberal Party, a number of Liberal women MPs and Senators have left the party, or otherwise expressed their dissatisfaction with the Coalition’s inability to deal with the bullying and sexism of those whom Banks has described as “the reactionary and regressive right wing who talk about themselves, rather than listening to the people."
SA Senator Lucy Gichuhi was demoted to an unwinnable fourth position on the Liberal Party's South Australian senate ticket after she threatened to name Coalition politicians who had bullied her and other Coalition women. West Australian senator Linda Reynolds hit out at bullying and intimidation in a speech in the Senate during the leadership spill, but like Gichuhi, was pulled into line by “Scummo” Morrison who insisted that their concerns be dealt with “internally”. NSW Liberal MP Ann Sudmalis announced that she was leaving parliament “in the face of NSW Liberal Party bullying, intimidation, leaking and undermining at a local level."
The Banks decision shows that neither Morrison nor his minister for women Kelly O’Dwyer have been able to change the culture that is driving women from their party. Two days ago, O’Dwyer launched an extraordinary spray against "homophobic, anti-women, climate-change deniers" in her party, but brought nothing but derision and scorn down on her own head yesterday, claiming in parliament that “this government is the natural government for Australian women”.
Working class activists, both men and women, must protect the interests of women.
Marx and Engels were clear that patriarchal ideology developed in class societies and presented women as the private property of men with whom they enter a marriage or partnership relationship. A man’s wife was legally his property to do with as he pleased. Domestic violence against women and children flows from this remnant ideology.
All women are oppressed by patriarchy; working class women are doubly oppressed as members of the working class. They are the section of the workers most likely to be in low wage, unskilled and precarious work. Almost all women, no matter their class, have experienced sexual harassment or sex-based discrimination. Working class women have less power to deal with it unless they are in a highly unionised workplace. Women usually do badly from relationship breakdowns and are more likely to be very poor and suffer homelessness as a result, especially in their old age. However, bullying and domestic violence are embedded in patriarchal relationships and all manifestations of it must be fought regardless of class and social strata.
Whilst supporting women of the bourgeois class, and even those with reactionary and anti-working class politics, against bullying, leadership of struggles for women's rights must come from working class women. Their immediate demands must include the right to full-time permanent employment with equal pay for equal work; family friendly policies in all employment situations; government-funding for independently run women's shelters; free all-day care for pre-school children with properly qualified and well-paid staff; increases in the Newstart Allowance; subsidised public housing for homeless women. The removal of violence against women on TV and the sexualisation of girls through advertising are both absolutely necessary.
Working class women must be encouraged into the fight for national independence and socialism. They should be encouraged to bring to this struggle the perspective of a truly proletarian feminism.
Only in a socialist society can there be a purposeful and fully supported process of smashing patriarchal ideology and gender inequality.
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